Less than two months into the 2020-21 season there are already question marks over head coaches at some of Europe's biggest clubs following less than impressive starts. While it's probably a bit early yet to be making drastic changes, no doubt club chairmen and sporting directors will have an eye out for potential replacements should things not pick up.
The general trend is still to recycle the same "name" managers, like Maurizio Sarri, Antonio Conte, Thomas Tuchel and Unai Emery, rather than giving up-and-coming coaches a chance, but for clubs with the imagination and courage to break that pattern, there are some exciting alternatives out there.
Here are seven of the brightest and most promising young coaches -- defined as under 45 years old -- across Europe (excluding Premier League) who are sure to figure in any such discussions.
Julian Nagelsmann, 33, RB Leipzig
At just 33, Nagelsmann already enjoys the reputation of being arguably the top coaching "prodigy" in European football. A knee injury cut short a promising playing career prematurely and, at just 20, Nagelsmann went into youth coaching. Eight years later, at Hoffenheim, he became the youngest-ever head coach in the Bundesliga. Now in his second season at RB Leipzig, he is constantly impressive with his creative yet methodical approach to management.
A former understudy of Tuchel, Nagelsmann is beloved by his players; he has a reputation for being a brilliant man-manager with a remarkable ability to connect with his squad. Not only is he recognised for his work with young players but also for his knack of reigniting the more experienced who seemed to have lost their spark.
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The methodical, intellectually curious German coach leaves nothing to chance: He studies the tiniest details of his opponents and throws up unpredictable tactical moves to often outsmart them. He is tremendously resourceful and seems to come up with new sharp ideas and tactical concepts every week, inspiring his team to third place in the Bundesliga early into the season. RB Leipzig were top spot for long periods last year, only to fade away toward the latter part of the season, so it will be intriguing to see how Nagelsmann addresses that this campaign.
The charismatic and enthusiastic coach has long been on the watchlist of most of the European giants and is likely to be coveted as he enters the last year of his contract with RB Leipzig in 2021.
Roberto De Zerbi, 41, Sassuolo
In a country where emerging head coaches tend to be retired big-name players (Simone Inzaghi at Lazio, Pippo Inzaghi at Benevento, Gennaro Gattuso at Napoli and now Andrea Pirlo at Juventus), De Zerbi earned his growing reputation "the hard way." Though the 41-year-old had a decent enough playing career himself, a four-year stint at Napoli being the most notable, he is more likely to make a lasting mark as a "Mister."
After mixed success at Palermo and Benevento, De Zerbi is two-and-a-half years into a progressively positive experience at Sassuolo. At the helm of one of the most ambitious clubs in Serie A, De Zerbi has implemented an exciting, energetic and imposing breed of football: His team always looks to take control of every game. Apart from a fixed back four and two ball-playing central midfielders, De Zerbi is flexible with the attacking side of his game, sometimes opting for two central attackers or three "floating forwards." The results are evident too: Sitting second in the table, Sassuolo are the top-scoring team in Serie A with 18 goals after six rounds.
In addition to being a clever tactician, a student of set pieces (a fine art!) and a good leader, De Zerbi is also an excellent communicator and is confident in front of the cameras, never too shy to sing his own praises or those of his impressive squad.
Gerardo Seoane, 41, Young Boys
It doesn't usually take long before the most successful Swiss coaches are snapped up by clubs elsewhere. Although he has just three seasons as head coach under his belt, Seoane had been heavily linked with Bundesliga clubs during summer. In his first job, at his hometown club FC Luzern -- where he started and ended his playing career, becoming a youth coach upon retirement -- he took the team from relegation trouble to third. That earned the 41-year-old a chance at Young Boys, with whom he has banked two consecutive league titles and led the club into the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in their history.
The man Seoane replaced at Young Boys, Adi Hutter, is now coaching Eintracht Frankfurt, and Seoane is likely to follow that well-worn path from Switzerland to Germany in the not-too-distant future. However, with his fluency in five languages (German, French, Spanish, Italian and English), Seoane is attracting interest from all over the continent.
Seoane comfortably fits the new generation of football coaches across Europe; he is a keen learner who never misses an opportunity to develop himself both as a leader and a football coach. Tactically, Seoane tends to alternate between a variety of formations depending on the opposition and the players available for selection. The 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 seem to be his favoured formations in the domestic league, but he also is prepared to field a back three -- especially against strong opposition -- in European games.
Julien Stephan, 40, Stade Rennes
Since taking over, initially on an interim basis, two years ago, Stephan has led Rennes to a Coupe de France trophy as well as a long-awaited berth in the Champions League. Being raised in a footballing family -- his father, Guy, has a long coaching track record and is serving as an assistant to Didier Deschamps with the France national team -- the 40-year-old sacrificed a modest playing career in his late 20s to work on his coaching badges.
Stephan has successfully brought with him the patience required from youth coaching, blending it with the authority that is essential to man-manage established top players. Rather than going for avant garde tactics or quirky formations often associated with young coaches, the Frenchman has created a well-functioning, balanced side -- preferably set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation -- using a fine mix of young, up-and-coming talents and seasoned professionals.
From initially favouring a counterattacking style using the pace of his wide and forward players, Rennes have developed into a more possession-based team that is happy to take the initiative of the game and ask questions of opponents. While France have continued to churn out world-class playing talent, the emergence of young talent in the dugout has been slow; Stephan is hoping to buck that trend.
Marco Rose, 44, Borussia Monchengladbach
Rose has taken an interesting path through a relatively short coaching career. Having spent his early years as a coach in the impressive FC Salzburg academy -- he led the U19 side to victory in the UEFA Youth League in 2017, which is an achievement not to be underestimated with an Austrian side -- he then took over the first team a few months later. During his first season coaching a senior team, Rose not only brought home the domestic championship, but he steered the club to the semifinals of the Europa League.
In the summer of 2019, Rose (along with his highly competent team of assistants) was given the opportunity to coach Borussia Monchengladbach, helping the club to a respectable fourth-place finish -- and Champions League qualification -- in his first season. The former left-back has certainly benefited from two of the best mentors in the game: At Mainz, Rose played under Jurgen Klopp, who earmarked him as a potentially excellent coach and has continued to talk him up; while Rose's first years in coaching were spent under the supervision of Ralf Rangnick, whom Rose had already played under at Hannover.
With a preference for the high-pressing, imposing, energetic football that he undoubtedly picked up from Klopp, Rose's teams tend to be attacking, aggressive and good to watch. Given his rapid rise to fame and almost faultless career management to date, the ambitious German -- whose grandfather won a national team cap -- is almost certainly destined for even bigger challenges. His team won 6-0 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League group stage on Tuesday, the second-biggest away win in the history of the competition.
Diego Martinez, 39, Granada
La Liga is traditionally a league in which the experienced, safe pair of hands is often put in charge over bright, emerging talent. Yet in two years, Martinez, who is still two months away from turning 40, has transformed Granada from a team going nowhere in the Segunda Division to a flourishing top-division side, rubbing shoulders with the traditional greats and recently beating PSV Eindhoven away in the Europa League.
Martinez has picked up valuable experience from youth development and later being part of the backroom staff at Sevilla. With a brand of football not often popular in La Liga, in which the emphasis is on firm defensive organisation and a strong, hard-working collective, Martinez brought newly promoted Granada to the dizzy heights of seventh last season (qualifying for the Europa League), recording a famous 2-0 home win against Barcelona in the process. Despite suffering an uncharacteristic 6-1 hiding from Atletico Madrid a few weeks ago, the team finds itself sixth in La Liga after seven rounds.
To Martinez's credit, he has proved himself as a mature, pragmatic coach who is prepared to divert from his most-fancied 4-2-3-1 formation when he sees fit and also makes the absolute most out of a modest budget. The latter quality is even more likely to endear him to any chairman or president looking for a dynamic, new appointment.
Ruben Amorim, 35, Sporting CP
Mainly thanks to an excellent coaching education program and driven people with a good command of language, Portugal is a long-established exporter of high-quality head coaches. Wherever you travel in the world, from the Premier League to Vietnam, you will find Portuguese coaches sharing their knowledge and expertise. While Amorim is still honing his trade in his home country, his promising start makes him a likely candidate to join them in a prestigious job away from Portugal before too long.
After retiring from a respectable playing career best remembered for his spells at Benfica and Braga, representing his country at two World Cup finals, the 35-year-old has had a frantic start to life in management. He resigned after just four games at second division club Casa Pia in January 2019 and then took charge at Braga (initially at an interim basis) just before Christmas last year.
Following an impressive opening run of games with Braga -- in which he came out on top against all the three traditional top clubs, Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting CP -- he was offered the head-coaching role at Sporting in March 2020. The Lisbon giants even agreed to pay a remarkable €10 million release clause to secure his services on a three-year contract. (Oh, and he's now subject to a release clause in the range of €20m.)
With just six defeats from his 34 first matches, Amorim -- who tends to stay loyal to his possession-based 3-4-3 system, as he is a deep thinker with a clear understanding of how he wants to play the game and especially how he wants his back three to operate -- has made a promising start to his coaching career. There's little doubt that insiders in Portugal see the studious, intelligent, empathetic "people person" as someone destined for a long, successful career on the touchline.